UK businesses urged to ‘redesign’ relationship with nature

A new survey of UK businesses from Business in the Community (BITC) has found that less than one third have developed science-based, net-zero or carbon-restorative targets, with less than one in 10 listing the health of nature as a material issue for their business.

UK businesses urged to ‘redesign’ relationship with nature

BITC’s latest Responsible Business Tracker, sponsored by Sky and supported by Lloyds Banking Group’s Centre for Responsible Business of the University of Birmingham, surveyed 94 UK companies across 24 sectors.

The Tracker found that despite the net-zero transition being second only behind health and wellbeing on businesses’ priorities, only 29% had developed targets aligned with climate science and the net-zero transition.

The research, which was conducted before the coronavirus pandemic, found that 41% govern carbon strategies from the boardroom. While 47% set objectives and KPIs to evaluate efforts to deliver against carbon reduction strategies, 53% do not report publicly on progress against targets.

BITC notes that just 6% of respondents listed the health of nature as a material issue for their organisation. Against a backdrop of a global pandemic that is linked to nature, this makes for interesting reading.

Between 1980 and 2013 there were 12,012 recorded virus outbreaks globally. Factors spurring this trend are various and have been linked to a rise in trade and global connectivity and increased travel. As those factors rise, biodiversity falls, which is the crux of the issue.

Deforestation is linked to 31% of outbreaks such as Ebola, and the Zika and Nipah viruses. It assists in driving animals into human populations and away from their natural habitat, which in turn accelerates the spread of “zoonotic” diseases. Viruses like Zika, malaria and dengue fever have all been accelerated by climate change, according to the World Health Organisation.

BITC’s environment director Gudrun Cartwright said: “The potential legacy we leave by not tackling the climate breakdown is terrifying. The same is true for the health of nature, but it is more difficult for most businesses to see the direct links between their operations and the ecosystems they depend on.

“Achieving net-zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible should be an important guiding star for businesses to aim at. Rethinking how businesses use resources and rebuilding the health of nature’s ability to both absorb carbon and build resilience to climate risks, are both key components of an effective net zero-carbon strategy.”  

In response to the findings, BITC is calling on businesses to focus on net-zero and science-based target strategies.

The organisation is also calling for more investment into removing carbon from the atmosphere to account for current unavoidable emissions. Focus should also be placed on restoring natural carbon sinks to help sequester more carbon or support more community projects focused on protecting nature.

Nature and conservation charities have already expressed concern that the Government’s £750m aid package for charities will not be enough to stop the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak from stifling efforts to tackle climate change and protect nature over the coming years.

The Natural Capital Committee recently launched its advisory report to the UK Government on how nature-based solutions can assist with the net-zero ambition for 2050.

The report calls for a myriad of nature-based solutions to help capture and sequester carbon, but warned that mass tree planting could inadvertently harm other carbon stores like peatlands.

The report claims that all tree planting schemes will “need to employ rigorous monitoring, verification and spatially aware decision making.” However, the financial impact of Covid-19, combined with cuts to government agencies could make the management process more complex.

“It is clear that we need to redesign our relationship with nature as we emerge from the Covid19 crisis,” Cartwright added.

“However, it is also clear that there are many demands on business time and energy. If the business community focuses hard on tackling the climate crisis by getting to net-zero, harnessing opportunities to rebuild nature as part of their plans, we could restore our planet’s life support systems and give ourselves a fighting chance to leave a legacy we can be proud of.”

Matt Mace

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